I have a hernia.
It's no fun, although it makes for a wonderful conversation piece, as others, primarily men, tell me their own hernia stories. I have unwittingly strayed into another competitive arena for men: Whose hernia is/was worse. A wimp, I cower as they talk of their hernia "repairs," as the surgery is euphemistically known, under local anesthetic.
But more significantly, my hernia has added another dimension to my understanding of balance. Many people go through life not only balancing work and life, but also balancing their pain with work and life. For me, thankfully, the pain is intermittent. For others, it is more consistent, perhaps never-ending while awake, and more intense. Their balance, and mine recently, is tripartite: Work-pain-life.
One salve, in my case, is rest. Better yet, lying down, so the hernia retracts. But I'm a go-go kind of person, even when my load might allow such midday breaks. So I resist. Or compromise, keeping the breaks brief. But if I sabotage myself in these circumstances what do I do in more routine situations? How will I achieve work-life balance in better moments?
One of the joys of work and life is being in the flow, unaware of much around us as we focus on one activity. That's harder to do, I'm learning, with pain. Not impossible, because I can certainly be oblivious to pain for periods, but often when the flow is interrupted, pain is the precipitator.
An acquaintance had a hip replacement recently. When I saw him, he was joyful, feeling released. He mentioned his wife said he was a happier person to be around. Pain can inhibit relationships. If work-life balance depends on the quality of relating to other people as much as or even more than the time we give them, then I suspect it's diluting my relationships. I'm not there in the same way: I find pain often creeping into my mind when I should be focusing on other people and their comments.
For many of us exercise is a vital element of work-life balance, taking us away from work and energizing us for all our activities. We read constantly about the importance of exercise. But pain can be a barrier to exercise, or at least the exercise we most intensely have enjoyed before the injury. These days, I am intrigued by the lack of medical advice on what, in my case, is a very common problem. "Don't lift anything heavy," I am told. Not terribly specific.
In tai chi, I lift my entire weight. Is that heavy, I wondered? Could the stretching of tai chi open up my weak stomach area even more and intensify the hernia? So far – the surgeon awaits – the best I have heard from the medical generalists is to "be careful."
I have asked, "Can I do tai chi?" The answer has been vague: "Just be careful." Obviously life is always uncertain and medical practitioners deal with many different situations, but exercise is an important area of life and I wonder how many other injured people end up in limbo, not exercising, or fearful as they do continue their regimen.
Life involves asking for help. Injuries are good training for that. I feel like an idiot when I can't lift simple objects and have to ask others for assistance. Humility is good for the soul, I have heard, but I'm not sure it's working yet for me. I need to work at asking for help.
My massive lawn is uncut, but will survive. I do, however, miss the two-and-a-half hours of exercise it provided on each occasion. I'm not quite sure who I can hire to shovel the snow this winter, if the snow flies before the "repair" is completed. Recycling is beyond me on the weeks that newspapers and magazines go out. Shopping has to be carefully plotted, done in light bits, or delegated. Routines and habits have to be rethought; nothing is the same, my to-do list reconfigured, all from a relatively small physical problem.
And that's the point. In the scheme of things, this is minor. It has a usually successful resolution. While I have used the word pain, opting as a journalist for the most dramatic phrasing, often it's merely discomfort. Others have it much worse – greater pain, for longer periods, perhaps the rest of their life. But it has set me thinking, and I hope you as well, about pain and balance.